In a battle between two teams looking to contend for titles in their respective conferences, the West Virginia Mountaineers took on the San Diego State Aztecs in the final of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. San Diego State had defeated #14 California the night before to reach this point, while West Virginia defeated Richmond.
Interestingly, those Richmond Spiders shocked California in the 3rd place game today. Was San Diego State's victory over California really as impressive as analysts first thought?
Potentially not. In the championship game, West Virginia took it to San Diego State, forcing a whopping 21 turnovers en route toward a 72-50 victory.
West Virginia and San Diego State traded buckets early, but then WVU's outstanding pressure defense altered the course of the game. SDSU, which eventually became a laughingstock due to their horrific shooting and constant turnovers, couldn't stop West Virginia's onslaught of 3's in the first half. Jaysean Paige, who ended the day at 10 points off the bench, was electric, going on a personal 8-0 run that set the tone for the rest of the game. His backcourt buddies, Jevon Carter and leading scorer with 14 points Daxter Miles Jr., got some swagger when bursting toward the basket, and it turned into a big hole for San Diego State by halftime.
Devin Williams, the Mountaineer star big man, didn't seem to have his head in the game during the first half. However, he was not necessarily needed, as the pressure defense for WVU forced 14 turnovers in the first half alone. Also, the barrages of outside shots from West Virginia put the heat on the Aztecs often.
Things only got worse for Steve Fisher's SDSU squad in the 2nd half, as they couldn't even find themselves close to the rim. WVU was intercepting nearly every inbound pass and exchanging them for points. San Diego State, which was led by freshman star Jeremy Hemsley with 14 points, looked demoralized.
Both teams lived at the free throw line, as it was an overall sloppy game. But, that is exactly the type of basketball that Bob Huggins loves, and it paid off in a big way tonight. Jonathan Holten, who played well down low during Williams' struggles, jockeyed for position well against talented Aztec big men like Skylar Spencer (6 blocks in the first half, 1 in the second) and Zylan Cheatham. He and Nathan Adrian were critical in the paint for WVU. The Mountaineers simply got into the Aztecs' heads, and they took advantage.
This game will likely show what it will be like for opponents to play West Virginia all season long. San Diego State, which ended at 21 turnovers for the night, was simply shaking in their boots by the end of the evening. West Virginia proved that they can survive and flourish even without a constant presence from Devin Williams. It's a complete team that should be a favorite in Big 12 play.
West Virginia will now take their hardware home and prepare for a date with Kennesaw State next Saturday. San Diego State will try and shake off this abysmal performance at Long Beach State on Tuesday.